Shot in the Face for Honour

If your family tried to kill you, would you forgive them?

19-year-old Saba’s father and uncle picked her up in a car. They drove until they came to a river, stopped and told her to get out. They then beat her, shot her in the face and threw her into the water; a perfect place for her dead body to be carried away. But Saba didn’t die, and with a gunshot wound gaping across her face, Saba pulled herself up onto the riverbank and walked until she found help. She believes she lived because she tilted her head back when the bullet was fired.

Saba in hospital after surgery

You could say Saba was lucky; she should’ve died. There are 1000 other women in Pakistan every year who aren’t so lucky though. They’re killed for reasons such as wanting a divorce, being raped, flirtatious behaviour or acting in an immoral way. These are known as ‘honour killings,’ and they are the subject of Pakistani-born director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.

The river where Saba was dumped by her father and uncle.

It’s hard to decide what’s more shocking in this documentary. First, I made up my mind that it was her father talking pretty casually about the respect he’s gotten in the community since (unsuccessfully) killing his kid, “It was the proper thing to do. I have other daughters,  since the incident each daughter has received proposals.” But then, I decided it was when her mother said, “This is what happens when honour is at stake,” and her sister agreed, “All our family did was to prove their integrity and honour.”

Since this documentary was released earlier in the year, quite a few things have happened. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for it (her second by the way), two high profile honour killings have stirred up public debate and the Prime Minister of Pakistan saw the film. Although the most important change made needs to be the cultural mindset that makes it okay to kill a woman because a man deems it, ‘the right thing to do,’ first there is a law that needs to be changed. Prime Minister Sharif reckons he’s going to pass it, and so far he hasn’t actually been all talk.


The law previously ruled that honour killings are, in the eyes of Pakistani law, a crime against the family and not the state. Which means the family left behind have the ability to pardon the family member who committed the murder. A forgiveness—which after you watch this documentary you’ll understand—that happens pretty much every time. This law is currently in government, in the process of being amended.

So, when it comes to Saba, does she forgive her dad and uncle and let them walk free? You’ll have to watch to find out. Also check out the other works of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; she’s covered everything from child soldiers, to acid attacks, to the slave trade. She’s pretty incredible, and you can see more of her work here.

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